Have you ever wondered why mountains always teach a lesson or two?
At least I have wondered why do I get these thoughts while ‘doing a mountain’. And I think now I understood the reason behind it.
I believe it is the struggle- it is the struggle that teach us a lesson.
This realisation dawned upon me recently while doing an early morning cycling trip to Chamundi Hills in Mysore, Karnataka, India. Though Chamundi Hill is not a mountain, the lessons learnt are still valid for me.
It was my first time cycling to a longer distance, that too to a challenging terrain. (Well longer and shorter are relative terms and long becomes short once you finish pushing your limits. As a matter of fact, that is a different lesson altogether.)
The riding was easy in the beginning. It was early in the morning. Even the Sun was in slumber. There was not much light, let alone heat. And the roads were more or less flat and even.
That part of the ride was smooth and I enjoyed it. It is in the rest of the trip ‘enlightenment’ happened.
I have divided the later parts of the journey into five sections.
After the end of the nice, flat and even road the fun part started. The climb started gradually. If you want to know the slightest of unevenness on the road, I think bicycle is the best tool.
You will realize in no time that there is slight negative slope when pedaling becomes easier as gravity helps you to move forward and vice versa. Because of our automatic compensation system, while walking we tend to miss out such slight variations unless until the slope is really steep.
Geared Bicycles are the Greatest Invention Ever!
As the hill became steeper and steeper, the gears of the bike went lower and lower. It was my first time riding a geared bicycle.
It is amazing to experience the mechanical advantage you are receiving just by changing the gears. You are exerting more or less the same force, but the output force changes so drastically with a click of a lever. Having ridden only the normal bicycle so far, I felt geared bicycles are the greatest invention ever!
By the time I started pushing the gear numbers to a minimum, the sun had already woken up. Sun and I, both were going up.
And if you listen carefully you can even hear the beginning of panting and heavy breathing. Things were getting a bit challenging.
Second Stage :
The fun gradually made it’s way to struggle. Upon reaching a few critical turns, I could see the mountain road that stretched in front of me for a very long distance. And I hadn’t even completed the half of it.
Miles to go before I could reach the top!
There were morning walker, joggers and cyclists on the way. I could overtake a few while a few overtook me (only the cyclists, not walkers 😉 ). Sun also started to lose its boyish charm as well a the innocent red-orangish face, just as the terrain lost its remaining niceness.
Third Stage :
The gears were pushed down even further and reached to a point where there were no more gears left to push down. I was riding at the lowest gear.
They say everything comes with a price. The greater mechanical advantage offered by the lower gears also comes with a price. If in higher gears one had to pedal only once to go one meter, in lower gears one needs to pedal ten times for the same distance.
I was pedaling and pedaling and pedaling and I was going almost nowhere. It required a lot of patience for a person like me who likes quick results.
Then came the first lesson.
Fourth Stage :
The Realizations :
I realized that it is not possible to get a quick result all the time. There maybe shortcuts, in this case getting help from a vehicle or ditch the cycle and take a bus were some of the options, but then you are not earning what you are getting. Then there is no sense of achievement even after accomplishing the task. I think, probably that is why most of the true pilgrims set to their destination by walk.
So I rode through the frustration with this realization.
But frustration is a very loyal companion. It doesn’t ditch you and leave just like that. It stays with you to make sure that you are feeling worse.
I wasn’t feeling better since I wasn’t reaching my destination after quite a long struggle. Thoughts of quitting creeped in my mind. It was the easiest option I had at that point. Just turn towards right and enjoy the downhill trip. And it looked like a very sensible option.
“Anyway I have to come down after reaching the top. Why not now? I will go to the top and finish this trip maybe next time. It is too much for a first timer”. Those were my thoughts.
Then came the next lesson.
Quitting is easy. Anyone can do it. I could have quit even before. And just to quit I didn’t have to come all the way till there. Quitting never gives anyone anything worthwhile. And anything worthy of achieving has to be pursued with whatever one has got.
All I’d gotten was the reserve energy which could only be accessed through internal motivation. The shame of being a quitter pushed me to push my limits further.
That motivation gave me the much needed energy and I started pushing myself. It wasn’t easy but then I realized it wasn’t tough either. It was quite doable. The thoughts of going back was sucking up all the energy I had.
The new ‘ I can do it’ thoughts were working its magic on me.
I always think that there isn’t anything that we can’t do, there are only things that we don’t want to do. If you really want to do something, you can do it.
By slowly motivating myself I climbed up and I saw a board saying 3kms more to go. Then I knew how much more I had to go further. That was sort of a reassurance to me at that point.
And then again came another lesson.
Having a definite goal is always a good thing. Then one knows what are they chasing after and how it feels to achieve it. More over one will know that the goal is quite achievable. It gives us a purpose and this purpose will keep us moving forward when the going gets tough.
Management gurus say that your goal should be S.M.A.R.T.
S – Specific, M – Measurable, A – Attainable, R – Relevant, T – Time-bound. When I saw the 3kms mark, I knew why do they say the goal should be SMART.
With these new insights I reached the top. My knees were paining, I was dead thirsty and hungry and I didn’t even have any water with me. Novice mistakes!
But Chamundi hills being a tourist attraction, road side vendors were already present even in that early morning. And from one such vendor I had the best sugarcane juice that I ever had in my life! It was just another sugarcane juice but it felt so good after that long tiring journey.
After spending some time at the top enjoying the aerial view of Mysore, it was the time to head back.
Fifth Stage :
The Bliss :
From the top, on the way back all I had to pedal was just a few meters. The lower gears were pushed up and the journey began.
After those few meters, gravity took over the control of my bike. All I had to do was to negotiate the curves which I always enjoy doing.
The downhill trip was a bliss. It felt so amazing doing nothing, sitting on a bike that moves by itself, like you sit on a chair and it takes you to places.
Do you want to feel it?
It is like the scenery all around you just run past you like a movie. And the wind that blows on you soothes you and takes away all the hardships of sweating you have made while climbing up and runs its invisible fingers through your hair. With the changing landscape, fresh air, morning sun and soothing wind, it will transports you to a beautiful reality. If you open your arm and close your eyes for a second, you can even feel like flying.
That experience was so meditative.
And then came the final and most important lesson. This insight came from none other than the great Steve Jobs. He said You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You have to trust that the dots will connect in your future and trust in something. And I just remembered it on my way back.
I had no way of knowing how amazing the return trip would be, while struggling and going up the hill. But all I knew was I need to reach to the top and somehow I knew that whatever happens I would reach there. And at the end, all my efforts were paid off. It was such a beautiful journey. I wouldn’t have experienced it, if I had quit at some point.
Now when I looked back, I could find a pattern.
You start off with some big tasks. At some point there comes a struggle then a frustration and then comes the realization. Then comes the motivation that drives you to work hard and after that comes the real hard work with a newly defined purpose. And then comes the achievement and then the bliss from the sense of achievement.
Having a SMART goal helps. Then you know that your goal is achievable and how you will feel once you achieve it. And it further motivates you to take the required actions. Without action, motivation is nothing.
These are some of the lessons I learned at the hill. I’d consider myself lucky if I could remember and apply these lessons on some other situations in life.
It can prove to be very expensive if you wait for some other situations to teach you such lessons. Learn them when it is inexpensive. For that all you have to do is to listen to yourself. Life gives us lessons all the time. Take a moment to listen.
Note : It is memoir of an amateur first time cyclist, cycling to Chamundi Hills. Chamundi hills is not a huge mountain or anything. It is at an average elevation of 1000m. There are even kids cycling all the way till top, almost everyday.
Do you believe that mountains teach us a lesson? If so what are the lessons you learned from mountains?